Today’s photo features the Island of Ireland Peace Park in Messines in Belgium. The centerpiece of the park is the 34 m tall round tower, which was built with stone from a former British Army barracks in Tipperary and from a work-house outside Mullingar. The tower was inaugurated on 11 November 1998 by President Mary McAleese, Queen Elizabeth II, and King Albert II of Belgium. The design has a unique aspect that allows the sun to light the interior only on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.
Today – 95 km. Total so far 2565 km. I planned to go to Ypres today and get ferry from Dunkirk the day after. But when I stopped to charge my phone with the solar panel near Armentieres, I checked the ferry website and discovered that all the ferries were booked up for Friday. So, I then decided just to go as far as Messines and then head towards Dunkirk to get an overnight ferry and skip Ypres altogether. But near Heuvelland, the power went on my phone and as I had no maps, I got hopelessly lost so decided instead to go to the Ypra campsite in Kemmel for the night.
Flock of ducks at the Paille Haute campsite. There were ducks, geese and chickens running about the campsite. The noise from the dawn chorus was like the New York Philharmonic orchestra at 5.30 in the morning as the sun was rising.
Bouncy castle at La Paille Haute campsite. The bouncy castle was inflated at 10 o’clock and within 5 minutes, was full of kids trying it out. At €17, the campsite was the dearest out of any I stayed in, apart from the Bad Day campsite down on the Med, but it was well worth the extra money as the facilities were top notch.
Toll plaza on A1 motorway near Fresnes-les-Montauban. You can just make out that it costs €16.10 to travel from Paris to this toll plaza by car.
Church in Bailleul-sir-Bartheult. The Tour de France passed through here on July 8th on Stage 5 between Arras and Amiens. There was still a painted bike and polka dot sign in front of the church when I passed through almost a month later. The stage that day also passed through Peronne, Longueval, Pozieres, Thiepval and Albert, to commemorate the First World War. These were all places I had been to the day before but there were no signs about the Tour de France to be seen in any of those places..
RC Lens stadium. Incredibly, the stadium’s capacity is 41,229, which is about 4,000 more than the city’s population. The stadium was originally built in 1933 but was recently renovated ready for the European Championships in France in 2016. The stadium will play host to 4 games during next year’s tournament, so if Ireland qualify they could be playing here. Hopefully, they will do better than the Irish rugby team who lost to Argentina here during the 1999 Rugby World Cup and were knocked out.
Cycle paths in Hulluch. I have been cycling around France for 5 weeks and today was the first day that I saw a good few other cyclists. The closer I got to Belgium, the more cyclists I seemed to see. This town is 20 km from the border but have installed a wonderful system of cycle paths and it was being used by quite a few locals.
Ploegsteert cemetery and Memorial to the Missing in Belgium. There are over 11,000 names inscribed on the Memorial to the Missing in the centre of this cemetery. The Memorial was unveiled in 1931 and is flanked by 2 large lions. The 2 lions are not symmetrical as one lion bares his teeth while the other sits more placid. Almost 500 graves in this cemetery were moved here in 1930 from the Chateau Rosenburg cemetery because the chateau owner complained about the graves in his grounds.
Ploegsteert cemetery in 1917. The original graveyard, which is now to the right of the memorial, is unusual in that the bodies were buried back to back. It is mostly British soldiers that are buried in this cemetery but there are 83 Commonwealth graves and even 4 German graves.
Sign for Christmas truce football game near Saint Yvon. Roughly 100,000 British and German troops were involved in an unofficial cessation of hostility during the Christmas Truce of 1914. Along the Western Front, informal truces had often been arranged for each side to gather their dead from No Man’s Land. But the Christmas Truce was unique in that groups of soldiers from both sides of the conflict visited each other and exchanged presents. For some reason, many WW1 historians have downplayed the significance of the Truce and in particular, reports of games of football being played between troops. But there is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence that games took place, though they were not widely publicized at the time. For example, on January 1, 1915, the London Times published a letter from a major in the Medical Corps reporting that in his sector the British played a game against the Germans opposite and were beaten 3-2. Also, Kurt Zehmisch of the 134th Saxons recorded in his diary: “The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued. How marvellously wonderful, yet how strange it was”. In some places, the Christmas Truce lasted until New Year’s Day whereas elsewhere, it lasted less than a day and officers were court-martialed for fraternizing with the enemy.
Hops being grown in field near St Yvon. Hops are used primarily as a flavoring agent in Belgian beer. They are normally harvested in September and stored in oast houses to dry out. When hops are picked their moisture content is around 80% and this has to be reduced to 6% before being added to beer. The moisture content is reduced by heating the hops using a kiln attached to a oast house. The dried out hops are then added to the wort, made from crushed barley and hot water before the yeast is added to ferment the beer.
Mesen is the Flemish spelling and Messines the French spelling of the town. The town is on the border between the Flemish speaking northern part of Belgium (Flanders) and the French speaking southern part of Belgium (Wallonia). The town was captured by British forces during the Battle of Messines in June 1917. The battle is unique for the largest non-nuclear explosion ever when 19 mines, which had been tunneled underneath German positions were detonated, at 3.10 am on the morning of June 7th.
Messines Peace Village. I thought this was just a museum dedicated to WW1 and as I was trying to get to Dunkirk that evening, I had no time to stop and have a look inside. But I only managed to get about 10 km further when the power went on my phone and I had to stop in Kemmel. It turns out there is a hostel as part of the Peace Village and I could have stayed the night here instead. The Peace Village was paid for by the Irish and British governments and the cornerstone was laid by our very own Bertie Ahern in 2005.
Dranouter folk festival. About 5 km from Messines, I took a wrong turn and ended up going through the small village of Dranouter. Any other week-end and I wouldn’t have remembered the town but not so this week-end. For this evening was the start of the Dranouter Folk Festival, Belgium’s version of the Glastonbury festival. There were thousands of people and checkpoints at all approach roads to the town stopping cars. As I was on a bike, I was waved through but it was hard to find your way with so many people. It was now after 7, and as it would be dark in 2 hours, I decided it was too far to Dunkirk and to go to the campsite in Ypra instead.
Kemmelberg during the Ghent-Wevelgem cycle race. It is only about 3 km from Danouter to Camping Ypra in Kemmel but the route takes you up one of the most feared climbs in Belgium, the Kemmelberg.The hill features every year in one of the main cycle races in Belgium, the Ghent – Wevelgem a week before the Tour of Flanders. The Kemmelberg was also the scene of fierce fighting in April 1918 when over 120,000 troops were killed during the German Army’s Spring Offensive. The western side is not as steep as the eastern side used in Ghent – Wevelgem but it was still quite a climb and I was glad to make it the campsite shortly afterwards.